Ram Sewak Sharma, a 1978-batch IAS officer of Jharkhand cadre, who is currently serving as secretary in the department of electronics and information technology, is all set to become the new chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
Once the official notification is out, Sharma would formally take charge as the new chairman for a period of three years. Rahul Khullar, the erstwhile chairman, had taken charge of the regulatory body on May 14, 2012, and demitted office on May 13 this year. In the past, a new chairman has taken over immediately after the incumbent has relinquished office, but this is the first time that the office has remained vacant after the incumbent chairman moved out.
Sharma, who has worked in the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) before moving to the IT department, holds a Masters degree in mathematics from IIT Kanpur and computer science from University of California. Since he’s a member of the full Telecom Commission, he is familiar with all the telecom issues and is understood to have a good rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as his current boss, communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Quite like his predecessor, he would be taking charge at a time when the sector is undergoing major turmoil with the emergence of over-the-top operators, who have appeared on the scene in a big way and are eating into the revenues of mobile operators. The Trai, in March, had initiated a consultative process to ascertain whether the OTTs need to be brought under some kind of regulatory mechanism to bring about a level playfield with regard to the telcos.
Khullar could not complete the process of assessing the responses the regulator has received in response to the consultation paper, a task which Sharma would have to now complete.
His task becomes especially challenging, as whatever position he takes is bound to attract some amount of criticism from either side. The task becomes even more difficult as the DoT has also constituted a committee on the same subject. In this manner, Sharma would face a similar situation that Khullar faced when he assumed office in May 2012 from JS Sarma. Sarma’s recommendation on reserve price for the spectrum auctions had thrown the sector in chaos. The first task the government assigned to Khullar was to re-examine Sarma’s recommendations. However, Khullar displayed maturity by not taking any decision in haste during his last days in office, and left the final decision on the matter of regulating the OTTs to the authority and its future chairman.
A search committee, headed by cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, was in-charge of shortlisting and interviewing candidates for the Trai chairman. In all, around seven-eight candidates were interviewed apart from Sharma. They included Bimal Julka (I&B secretary), Rajeev Kher (commerce secretary), RK Mathur (defence secretary), Rakesh Singh (steel secretary) and former telecom secretary, MF Farooqui.